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DocTrain: Day 2

May 8, 2008

Today was the first “official” day of the DocTrain conference. Yesterday was a “pre-conference” workshop day.

Things started with 2 keynotes. I was a bit late and only caught the secoind half of RJ Jacquez’s keynote: Bringing the Video Revolution to Technical Communication. This was primarily a demonstration of Adobe’s latest products, in particular, Adobe AIR. While it looks cool, I didn’t see enough to get a sense of how well it would fit in with an XML environment.

The second keynote was XML in the Wilderness by Joe Gollner. This was an interesting look at the history of XML and Content Management, which if nothing else has pushed me to check out Ted Nelson, Vannevar Bush, and Douglas Engelbart, three of the “fathers” of XML and content management. Gollner is an entertaining speaker, who has obviously spent a lot of time thinking about SGML, XML, and Content Engineering. The main points of his talk echoed his workshop, with the addition of some nice historical points.

The first conference session I saw was Ann Rockley’s Component Content Management. She defines Component Content Management (CCM) as managing content on a granular level with each component having its own life cycle. In her view, CCM is not well supported by most tools. Since terminology is still vague, this can case problems, especially when an IT organization buys a CMS and assumes it will work as a CCM. The problem is that most Web CM, Enterprise CM (ECM), and Digital CM systems don’t deal with chunks of information that aren’d documents or webpages.

Rockley then spoke about evaluating CMS software, highlighting a new publication, developed in conjunction with CMS Review, titled XML Component Content Management Report 2008, which evaluates CCM systems. She also spoke about the importance of going beyond tools. In her view, which I heartily agree with, “Successful CCM is about:

  • Understanding your content
  • Understanding your user requirements
  • A solid reuse governance plan
  • Information Architecture (taxonomy, UI, workflow)”

While tools are important, they are not the most important question. Yet, tools considerations often dominate the discussion and distort evaluation.

The next session was Single Sourcing House, by Heidi Sandler of Siemens. She used the analogy of building a house, which while occasionally strained, was an apt analogy for building a single sourcing system. I was mostly impressed with some of her quantitative measures, which showed a significant (3-4x) improvement in productivity with the introduction of an XML based single sourcing system. The other item of note was a suggestion to keep a written history about decisions. Given how quickly things change in most organizations, this could be very useful.

I got a third dose of Joe Gollner in the next talk, which was titled, Putting Everything Back Together Again: Delivering Effective Information Products. This talk expanded on his earlier discussion. He made the point that while preparation and design are important, a more flexible planning approach may be a better way to deal with the “Uncontrolled growth” that characterizes content management these days.

Gollner presented a few case studies that served to illustrate the wide variety of content applications out there and to emphasize the point that old style waterfall style planning is not necessarily the best way to approach content management design.

The last talk I attended was Rahel Bailie’s Content Management Successes: Separating Fact from Fantasy. In a continuation of what is becoming a theme of this conference, she pointed out the common fallacy that leads people to think that “Tools are the engine,” when in fact, “Tools are the caboose.” I know from hard experience that organizations tend to select tools too early, and often without any idea of what their needs really are.

She also gave a cogent description of how to look at the blizzard of features offered by most tools. Her suggestion on evaluatiing features is to go beyond the “what” questions, like “do you have version control,” to more open questions like, “How do you handle version control.”

The other point that stood out for me was a discussion of “governance,” which emphasized the importance of understanding who owns processes and the budget, and understanding the depth of support, or political will, behind decisions. She suggest being wary of support below the “C-Level,” i.e., CIO, CTO, or CEO. And, she suggests using the tools of audience analysis on the people governing projects.

Again, an interesting day.

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